The era of self-monitoring is here, and it will need a lot of cloud storage!

By | September 26, 2013

runnerI recently took up running. Not overly seriously of course, but significantly enough to justify purchasing an expensive GPS watch. It has proven a motivation tool in of itself. It hasn’t helped me improve my distances or my speed, but at least I now know how short my distances are and quite how slow I go. On uploading the data into the Garmin cloud I am able to get all sorts of interesting information about my run. After four months now and with three or four outings a week, the data is building up and I can do lots of cool trending and comparisons. I have no idea exactly how much data is being generated by each run but I would have thought a few megabytes possibly (though I generally run the same route so I expect there is some scope for deduplication of that data in order to use less storage).

I am an example of a mild form of a self-monitor and one of a growing trend of people measuring their activity. Whether it is those with athletic ambitions or those just measuring their footsteps during their day and their sleep patterns at night, these self-monitors are generating lots of data. Some of these devices are getting more sophisticated and some more mainstream. Measuring calorie intake, body mass indexes and glucose levels are just a few examples of health indices that can now be tracked. Now smartphone apps and not just specialist running watches or fitbit devices are available to derive this level of information.

At a guess I would say that probably not more than 1% of the developed world is actually monitoring any of their health or exercise in this way. It is a fringe activity at this point. However it could be about to explode in a very efficacious way and the widespread adoption could well be driven by the medical profession. Yep, “there’s an app for that” may be issuing forth from your GP’s lips the next time you go to see him or her. You may be prescribed some drugs but also some advice on what app you need to download to your smartphone to allow you to monitor and possibly improve your health. Having trouble sleeping?  Find out how much deep sleep you are getting by wearing a device that monitors this for you. Want to record your pulse? Download a smartphone app that uses its camera to record imperceptible changes in skin color in your face to record your pulse, all with no intervention.

No-one doubts the dramatic effect smartphone technology has had on our business and our personal lives. However its benefits could potentially get raised a whole new level as they get used by individuals to self-monitor health, improve their well-being and even help diagnose diseases early. The young doctors now emerging from medical schools are as tech-savvy as any and whilst these methods of self-monitoring have yet to find their way onto the syllabus, it is only a matter of time.

I work for a storage vendor and with all that generated data sitting in the cloud somewhere, there needs to be storage sitting behind it. So that is good news. It is not temporal data – it should remain forever in your account and just keep growing. I guess it is a form of telematics data. And a few megabytes a day from every smartphone on the planet being stored in the cloud sounds like an awful lot to me. Again, good news for my branch of IT. I do wonder about the privacy and governance of that data though. Garmin only really stores data which identifies how poor a runner I am and frankly I don’t think that is of any interest to anyone but me.  However if I begin to track more vital statistics such as my blood pressure, my calorific intake or my blood-alcohol level, then that is data which only a medical practitioner whom I authorize  should have access to. Doctors are bound by their code of conduct and their licence to practice to keep confidentiality, but with all this vital data being stored by non-medical professionals, can we be as confident? Just a thought….

Just like we’ve stored paper records for hundreds of years, we’ll be storing this seemingly ephemeral but very private data for many years to come – and it is going to require lots and lots of storage to do so.

Back to today and the self-monitoring of my running –  I suppose I would rather not know how slow I am, after all the data doesn’t lie, but it might give me the motivation that I need to get out on the road at 6am on a cold winter’s morning!

I think we will be seeing a lot more very personal data being captured and stored in the cloud, and we better be comfortable with that or address some very interesting confidentiality issues.

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